Unless the United States Supreme Court intervenes sometime before midnight, the Wisconsin Democratic primary will take place Tuesday, despite a statewide shelter-in-place order largely preventing Wisconsin residents from leaving their homes amid the threat of coronavirus.
The Wisconsin National Guard will staff the polls rather than the typical volunteers and only one person will be allowed into each polling place at a time, but otherwise, the Wisconsin state primary will go on as normal, according to the Associated Press.
The state’s Democratic governor tried, at the last minute, to stall the primary, asking the Republican legislature to extend the vote-by-mail deadline until mid-May but the GOP legislature, concerned that the effort would result in widespread vote irregularities — and could delay special election results by weeks, leaving the legislature hamstrung — resisted, leaving the decision up to the courts.
“[Wisconsin governor Tony] Evers and Republicans initially agreed that it was imperative for the election to proceed because thousands of local offices are on the ballot Tuesday for terms that begin in two weeks,” the AP noted. “There is also a state Supreme Court election putting the conservative incumbent against a liberal challenger.”
Wisconsin is currently the only state on the primary schedule to move ahead with their primary, even though several key states are scheduled to hold contests in April, May, and early June. Those states claim even something as important as voting should not supercede coronavirus-related shelter-in-place orders and that people should not have to risk a COVID-19 infection in order to cast a ballot.
“Your choice is to go and vote in person and take a chance on contracting COVID-19 or stay home,” one Democratic Wisconsin state senator told the Associated Press. “What do you think people are going to do?”
FiveThirtyEight, though, says that Wisconsin’s unique situation — empty legislative seats and a hotly contested court battle — made it more difficult for the state to reschedule its primary.
Wisconsin, the polling outfit reported, is “also holding general elections for several local offices — judges, mayors, county executives — including some whose terms begin on April 20 (so the election had to take place before then). In addition, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers probably did not have the power to alter the election without the consent of the Republican legislature, and that was always unlikely given the bad blood between the two.”
There’s another problem: Wisconsin isn’t set up to handle a massive vote-by-mail effort. So far, voters have requested more than 1.2 million absentee ballots, and the state has only ever processed around 800,000 — and that was in a presidential election, with a full staff of election officials.
Former Vice President Joe Biden may reap the only reward of Tuesday’s contest in Wisconsin: according to the latest polls, Biden is expected to chalk up a runaway victory against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), even though the Vermont socialist won the state against Hillary Clinton back in 2016. That puts Biden at least a few dozen delegates further ahead of Sanders — an important leap forward, given that so few states are holding primaries that he may not be able to secure the 1,991 delegates necessary to lock down the Democratic presidential nomination before its August convention.